PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns could have prevented putting themselves in a position to lose Sunday’s game to the Memphis Grizzlies and also could have simply made enough plays in the fourth quarter once they were in that position.
The 121-115 loss with the Big 3 healthy again versus a Grizzlies team (13-23) without Ja Morant (right shoulder soreness) shouldn’t have happened to say the least.
“We just didn’t execute well enough,” Suns head coach Frank Vogel said. “We didn’t play well enough for 48 minutes, honestly. … We came in at halftime saying we didn’t play our best basketball but we were happy to have a five-point lead, but we didn’t deserve the win tonight.”
A 16-1 run put Memphis in the lead at the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter in a topsy-turvy contest full of runs and kept the game going that way instead of Phoenix’s prior separation being the difference.
And then Phoenix (19-17) fumbled it away on a handful of possessions. Grayson Allen and Bradley Beal missed layups. Beal failed to convert on a wide-open 3 in the corner. With Phoenix up one and 5:10 left, the Grizzlies picked up five huge second-chance points and also got two points at the foul line off a loose-ball foul. No one on the Suns could guard Jaren Jackson Jr., either, and those three things combined together were enough for the Suns to let this one slip away.
Devin Booker had a good look from 3 off an offensive rebound scramble with 53 seconds left down three that didn’t go down, and after a miss for Memphis, Marcus Smart stole the ball from Beal three seconds later to wrap it up. It was an 18-point Suns fourth quarter after they managed 30-plus for each of the three prior quarters.
Booker mentioned it was a night offensively when the Suns played slow at times. Memphis put lots of pressure on the Big 3 and over-denied them as much as possible. That allowed Jusuf Nurkic to have a big night as a playmaker in his spots to free those guys up, but Booker noted the pace in getting to the next action every time down wasn’t up to par and has to be immediate.
Phoenix didn’t get a great game from any of its three stars. Booker’s 24 points and eight rebounds were solid, Beal in a tertiary role was 5-of-12 for 12 points with six rebounds and five assists while it was the rare inefficient night for Kevin Durant.
Durant returned from a three-game absence due to a strain in his right hamstring and shot 11-of-23 for 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He didn’t hit his one 3-point attempt and only got one point at the foul line, the rarest part of his box score.
When neither of those guys truly go off and Phoenix gets battered again on the 3-point line, this isn’t a good enough team yet within the margins to make up for that, even in the regular season against inferior opponents.
Phoenix’s execution defensively has been much better in recent games, specifically toward getting the most out of denying some of the opponent’s strengths both as a team and individually. The Grizzlies entered the night last in 3P% at 33.8% while fifth in attempts per game (39.0), so the Suns contained certain sections of the floor to welcome that trade-off of giving Memphis the chance to beat them with math.
The issue on Sunday is the defense wasn’t as crisp. Letting Memphis jack up 49 3s is far too many, meaning a tame 34.7% conversion rate via 17 makes included a bunch Phoenix wants back. On the other side, the Suns were 8-for-28 (28.6%).
Vogel put it well postgame in saying the Suns need to do both. Good defenses aren’t just about taking away points in the paint or 3s. They do both.
“Just making second, third efforts,” Durant said of the key to doing that. “Coach expects us to get to the paint and also get out to the shooters.”
“Everybody tries to do it also but it’s extra effort,” Booker said of taking away both. “Even when you’re helping your teammate and you’re in the gaps over-helping, it just has to be a sense of urgency to get out to shooters and know who the shooters are on the court.”
Nurkic was very good with 18 points, 19 rebounds and five assists but Jackson’s 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists made the visitor the best big on the floor Sunday.
The Suns’ execution limiting Jackson could have been much better.
“No gameplan discipline. I don’t know how many times Jaren got left when that was a point of emphasis,” Booker said.
That’s noteworthy a game after Friday’s win was one Vogel and Beal both thought the gameplan discipline defensively was the best it had been. The peaks don’t matter if it doesn’t come with consistency.
Marcus Smart was very good too, providing 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists and three steals.